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Edinburgh Fringe 2015

Shakespeare in the Garden : Cheer Up Hamlet

Captivate Theatre

Genre: Children's Theatre, Classical and Shakespeare

Venue: The Famous Spiegeltent, St Andrew's Square


Low Down

A comedic, musical adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s darker tragedies, with a lighter touch that makes it accessible and suitable for both young and old alike.


Eerie music is playing, the stage is bare but so, sadly, is the audience. I know we’re deep into the third week of the Fringe and Scottish schools are back working but does no-one want to see Hamlet cheered up? After all, he’s one of Shakespeare’s more morose characters to inhabit a plot, one that, unedited, is longer than some Wagnerian operas, seeing a series of gruesome murders before the eponymous hero finally meets with a sticky end, dying in the arms of his long-time mate, Horatio.

Captivate Theatre brought us Brave Macbeth in the capacious Spiegeltent in St Andrew’s Square last year and twelve months on have added Cheer Up Hamlet and Romantic Romeo to give them a trio of musically focused Shakespeare adaptations aimed squarely at the younger end of the market. Except this morning youngsters were a bit thin on the ground.

Never mind, shows must go on, no matter who does or doesn’t turn up. At least those present didn’t need to worry about knowing the plot. The cast set it out very neatly from start to finish, clever use of narration and frequent musical interjections helping to illustrate the deeper parts of the original text as well as weave the plot. And whilst there’s plenty of emphasis on the blood and the gore to get the few kids in the audience excited, there were also plenty of comic asides and caricatures to lighten the mood.


Claudius was played as a pantomime baddie, Gertrude as a narcissistic beauty-queen, Laertes and Ophelia as Sloane Rangers, Polonius as a slightly camp old fool and the interchangeable, inseparable Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (or is it Guildencrantz and Rosenstern?) as school chums complete with public school blazers, silly looking shorts and daft caps. This all worked, keeping the show light and flexible and the plot moving forward.


The well-drilled cast had an original and very supportive score which, in the main, played to the vocal width of each cast member, although a purist might have noted one or two struggling at the lower end of their ranges at times. And some of the balance between singer and song track would benefit from a bit of adjustment as lyrics, which were a clever mix of original Shakespearian text and comedic adaptation, were occasionally lost. But the tunes were catchy and the words were witty – can’t ask for much more than that.


A bit less music and a bit more of the original text could have given the production more bite and the frequent modern references to modern social media really didn’t fit but it’s still a clever piece of theatre for all that. The piece remained absolutely true to the original story but took a tangled plot and made it comprehensible, amusing and entertaining for any age or any language. Captivate Theatre have nailed it again and this production has a lot to recommend it – well worth getting out of bed for.